Examing the impact of postdoctoral experience on academic scientists' career trajectories
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Abstract An implicit assumption prevailing in the science community is that scientists with postdoctoral training demonstrate a higher rate of productivity than their peers without such experience (Folger et al. in Human resources and higher education. Russell Sage, New York, 1970; NRC in Postdoctoral training in the biomedical sciences. National Academy of Science, Washington DC, 1974; NRC in Research training and career patterns of bioscientists: The training programs of the National Institutes of Health. National Academy of Science, Washington DC, 1976; Reskin in Am Sociol Rev 41(4):597–612, 1976), and especially so if postdocs are employed in research intensive settings (McGinnis et al. in Soc Force 60(3):701–722, 1982; Zumeta in Extending the educational ladder: The changing roles of postdoctoral education in the United States. National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Va, 1985). In contrast, by exploring the reward structure of the science system, sociologists contend that departments where scientists obtain positions play a substantial role in shaping their research productivity (Long in Am Sociol Rev 43(6):889–908, 1978; Long and McGinnis in Am Sociol Rev, 46(4):422–442, 1981; Allison and Long in Am Sociol Rev, 55(4):469–478, 1990). This study investigates both theories in an attempt to unfold how these factors impact scientists’ research productivity over time. Using curriculum vitae (CV) from a nationally representative sample of academic scientists and engineers, the findings suggest that postdoc training indeed boosts individual research productivity during scientists’ early career periods (the first 3 years after the doctoral degrees), however, the effect fades quickly. While departmental prestige plays a role in scientists’ research productivity, further investigation indicates that only scientists placed in highly prestigious departments demonstrate a consistently higher productivity level than their peers in other departments. Given that postdoc training contributes significantly to the higher likelihood of being placed in highly prestigious departments, postdoctoral training and the subsequent placement in highly prestigious departments together are conducive to the presence of the accumulative advantage effect.